Finding Your Nerds

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

Trade shows are a useful resource for designers and wholesalers, but they can be difficult to navigate successfully. They provide the opportunity to interact with retailers and pitch products face-to-face, which is extremely valuable. However, the attendees are almost exclusively buyers looking for products to meet specific commercial requirements. Selling to buyers who focus solely on how profitable a product will be can leave less-than-ample opportunity for vendors to express the thought, care, and love that they’ve put into their products.

While some trade shows will attract people with a passion for a given industry, few offer the kind of audience one will encounter at fan-based conventions. Events like these present a unique opportunity for vendors: the ability to interact directly with consumers whose interests align directly with their goods. The beauty of these interactions is that they have the potential to build a brand’s equity by taking the goods directly to the consumers from all over the world who will appreciate them most.

Below are a few tips to getting the most out of a convention as an exhibitor:

Choose Your Con Wisely

Many people (even non-fans) are aware of large-scale events like SDCC (San Diego Comic Con) or the D23 Expo (Disney’s fan club convention), both of which host tens of thousands of people, but there are dozens of similar events that take place year-round all over the world. Many are much smaller and more specifically focused: Leaky Con in the UK is focused on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, Anime Con in New York is entirely about Japanese anime and manga, etc. All events, regardless of size, share the same structure: a gathering of vendors, entertainers, and industry leaders at an event that is 100% designed for the fans.

Unless you sell products that fit into an obvious genre or subgenre (ex: if you make Cowboy Bebop figurines, you’re likely to do well at Anime Con), you should find your fans before you choose an event. This will require some rudimentary market research but, ultimately, it’ll not only help you find events to exhibit your goods, it’ll narrow down your search for retail leads.

It’s also important to consider your budget and any locational preferences. If you can’t afford to travel a long distance or pay the exorbitant exhibitor fees at a large-scale convention, you should research cons in your local area that are smaller in scale and thus, more accessible to local businesses.

Work Out Your Pitch and Get Behind Your Products

One of the perks of exhibiting at a convention is that usually you don’t have to convince attendees the way you would with buyers, since they’re already fans and aren’t concerned with selling your goods to others. Fans are much more moved by your passion. This means that rather than focusing on the potential value your products might have to a retailer, you can focus on the hard work and love you put into creating them!

While this difference in dynamic is, in many ways, an advantage, it also means that you need to reconsider the way you pitch to attendees. Avoid the proverbial “hard sell” with convention goers. As mentioned, they aren’t going to sell your goods again, so the only convincing they need from you is that your product is high quality and relates to subjects or genres that interest them. If you’re an independent publisher selling comic books or novels, give the attendees your elevator pitch. Think about what you would want to hear in a movie trailer or read on the back of a book and remember that if you are passionate about your product, consumers are far more likely to jump in and, ultimately, share your passion.

 Plan Scrupulously and Be Flexible

This goes for any trade show, but even smaller conventions can be surprisingly popular and therefore logistically complex. Plan your booth carefully and make sure you’re prepared for the space and layout to be different from your expectations. Make sure any displays are adaptable and bring additional materials if necessary. If you find that your booth’s position isn’t as “central” as you were hoping, don’t be afraid to send someone to the trade floor with flyers, an arrow sign, or just a brief spiel to bring up your traffic. Flexibility is the name of the game.

Bring a Team

One of the best ways to make sure you get your money’s worth when exhibiting at a convention is to bring a group of people to man your booth. There are a few reasons for this: 1. The booth should never be unattended, 2. It’s always a good idea to put someone out on the floor to bring interested attendees back to your booth, and 3. Conventions are typically held over 3-5 days and each day is at least 7-8 hours long. Ideally, you should have around five individuals for a small booth, but three is the bare minimum to ensure that everyone gets a break and doesn’t lose energy early in the con.

Cast a Wide Net

You may have found that, historically, your product appeals to a certain kind of person. If you sell comic books or toys, you may have found that children, teenagers, and parents are your niche market. Again, you must remember that at a convention, almost everyone is a fan. This means that ages, genders, and “types” are functionally irrelevant. So, if you see a variety of ages, genders etc. looking at your products, all the better! Give everyone who shows interest equal attention at your booth and you may be surprised by the diverse fans you acquire.

While conventions aren’t necessarily best suited to every kind of business, they certainly provide an ample platform for small businesses with a “nerdy” following to increase that following and build a formidable brand and audience. Get out there and find your nerds!

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